The Subdued Petal

snowdrops

The subdued petal,

Its silken flesh blessed by dew,

Dances and sways in the spring sun’s rays,

Bending its delicate skirts in chiffon grace.

*

No more the deep darkness of winter’s embrace,

Life re-born, renewed a pace.

A thousand wishes coming true,

New hope, new possibilities grow.

*

Glistening shards of verdant green,

Among white dappled drops of snow,

Each frowning head bobbing in the warming glow,

Of sunnier days to come.

*

The crocus bursts with vivid hue,

Amidst the dull greys of winter blue,

The ducks arrive in feathered clans,

And bring my smile, happiness found.

*

Spring leaps…and I follow.

*

Sophie E Tallis © 2014

Crocus

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Stay a while longer … please

autumn tree

The ochre shades of Autumn fall

Amongst the pearly drops of dew,

The straddling wisps of cloud rush by

As wind whispers in the willows tall.

**

The last days of summer gone

The fleeting haze of warmth and shine

The flutter of the butterflies

The humming of the bees has died.

**

Chill air blows from northern skies,

An arctic blast to catch our breath,

Trees semi-clad and leafless sigh

As the hours draw ever closer in.

**

Exotic twirls of russet fungi

Flower like balletic skirts,

Amongst the brown shades and woody tumble

That smoothers all the green I knew.

**

The pheasants shriek their lonely call

The hunter’s on the prowl,

Gunshots ring out in darkening days

Oh, the cruelty of human pride.

**

I see the beauty of the gold, the amber and the crimson hue

But how my heart aches for the shimmering sizzle

Warm grass underfoot,

Lazy hazy days of Summer azure…

**

So while the harvest fruits cascade,

The hedgerows twitch alive with life,

Winter crops planted and ordered well,

Haystacks drying in the last sunny rays…

**

I murmur to the heavens,

To the trees still bearing leaves,

To the dying Speckled Woods on the wing

Come stay a while longer … pleaseeee.

*

*

Sophie E Tallis © 2013

English: Speckled Wood butterfly - in the wood...

English: Speckled Wood butterfly – in the woods Nestling on moss among the pine needles, this butterfly looked to be at home in the 943212. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Winter haze, snow days…life goes on!

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It’s been a little while since I last posted, sorry folks for the delay, just a few unforeseen bumps along the road of life, but hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

SAM_2173Just over a couple of weeks ago I was staring out of my window at a scene of almost indescribable beauty.

SAM_2120Everything lay shrouded under a mantle of magical white. Landscapes I knew so well, were suddenly alien. Formless lumps and bumps smothered beneath snow. The trees and thickets, so stark and mournful in winter, had grown frosty fruits of their own over night. Icicles adorned gutters and everywhere lay a stillness and silence so strange to behold in a garden which usually resembles an aviary. SAM_2181

Little three-pronged footprints skitted across the lawn, looking this way and that in the hope of food. Deeper imprints from the various wild creatures that frequent our wooded garden, could be seen gathering round the feeders we put out.

SAM_2269The pond had frozen solid and there, as reminder of the beauty and cruelty of life, was a track, leading from the edge of the pond across the frozen water to the little island where the moorhens live. A mink.

A creature never intended to be on this little sceptred isle of ours, not indigenous but introduced, brought over here for the cruelest of reasons, to farm them not for meat, for us to live from, but for the vanity of fashion – for fur to adorn the wealthy and arrogant. And why was this mink suddenly roaming our countryside? Because it’s freedom had been given by those who oppose the fur trade. A noble endeavour, but of course a short-sighted one, and our indigenous wildlife has paid the price. Much like our poor English crayfish, on the brink of extinction from introduced foreign invaders, our otters struggle against the competition and our birds fall prey.SAM_2258

And so, in this scene of snowy loveliness I was reminded of the arrogance of man, the ‘great interferer’, who has through ignorance, apathy or intention caused the suffering of so much of our planet’s wildlife – species that were here long before us but whose lives now hang in the balance on the most tenuous of threads because of us.

041The moorhens, a breeding pair who had mated for life, had been living on the little island in my pond for longer than I have been living in this house. Last year with utter delight, we saw them raise three broods of chicks – little black balls of fluff with outsized feet, 18 chicks in total! We put out corn for them daily in addition to the wild bird seed mixes, peanut feeders, vegetable suet and dried fruit we put out daily for all the garden birds. Helping nature where we can. Anyway, there was the track of this mink, heading straight for where the moorhens have their permanent home. No, I didn’t see any blood, just a few brown black feathers. But unmistakably, there will be no moorhen chicks this year.  Only a single moorhen remains, the male, left alone nervously swimming the pond as it thawed, running and flying at the first sign of danger, seeming to look for its lost partner.

SAM_2145A sad tale to be sure…but it got me thinking about life, about all those calamities that befall us, those obstacles we have to overcome, those hoops we jump through, those times of strife.

Certainly for me, tough times are when I “go to the mattresses”, I’ve been through enough really tough times to recognise when something truly qualifies as a major disaster or simply another pot hole in the journey we all find ourselves on. That’s not to minimise anyone’s ‘bad time’, we all have days even weeks when we just shouldn’t have crept out from under the duvet, when everything we touch turns to pig slop, but you do find a perspective in life when you’ve really had struggles. As a result, you are able to deal with the odd crisis or recognise simply when things aren’t as bad as they seem – a lucky escape wrapped in a drama!

SAM_2135For me, everything is a matter of perspective. Everything I have and have achieved has been through damn hard work, sweat, blood, tears and persistence – no fickle luck, no easy hand outs or rich family members, just slog, but that does build character. SAM_2179

So, when the dust settles and you’ve picked yourself up. Look around. Smell the air, breathe deep and realise that things always happen for a reason. That you may just have had a lucky escape from a bad situation that could, and probably would, have become a lot worse. See those silver linings? They’re for you.

SAM_2235So, the next time something ‘bad’ or unexpected happens to you, take the time to reflect, look up from your duvet and simply breathe and you may just find that a new door opens up for you and a new horizon brighter than any you could have imagined! SAM_2104

SAM_2294As for my lonely moorhen, I cannot promise that he will find another partner, that life will get any easier for him, despite my efforts, but life does go on. Within days a pair of wild ducks arrived and a couple of pheasant have been taking up residence…life goes on. SAM_2232

So good luck to you all, my friends, my supporters, my family, life IS a wondrous and beautiful trip, make sure you don’t miss it!  😀 xx

SAM_2127

Treks in the wilderness…Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle and deepest darkest Dartmoor!

Just returned from a wonderful holiday down in Devon and my beloved Dartmoor National Park. Backpacks and suitcases are still unpacked and littering the hall. The dogs are going crazy over the strange smells they’re getting from my trainers…I’m hoping it’s the wild pony poo and the great outdoors and NOT my feet! So, as I nurse my various bruises, scrapes, blisters and insect bites, I find myself grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat!

Basking in uncharacteristic and glorious sunshine, I found myself lying on the soft golden sands of Bigbury-on-Sea, listening to the lapping waves, children playing and the occasional family disagreement! Under cerulean skies I watched the world’s only sea tractor cross the bay to Burgh Island, laden with passengers, to the island’s most famous landmark – the 1920’s Art Deco Burgh Island Hotel, haunt of such luminaries as Agatha Christie, Cole Porter and Noel Coward amongst others.

Agatha Christie wrote Evil Under the Sun whilst staying there, staring out across the cliffs and shifting sands, and it also proved inspiration for her novel, And Then There were None. You can easily see why writers from Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle to Du Maurier were drawn to Devon and Cornwall, it is simply breathtaking!

Leaving the coast though, I entered the magical mythical world of Dartmoor.

Ahhh Dartmoor…such a wondrous place. Wild, unspoilt, hauntingly beautiful. Drenched in rich history. Steeped in so much mythology and folklore you can practically taste it, not to mention the ghost tales…

My favourite ghost story, apart from the infamous ‘Hairy Hands’ that grab your steering wheel and send you careering off the road to your untimely death, is the forlorn and rather spooky tale of ‘Jay’s Grave’. There are various versions of the story, as is often the case with oral traditions.

Around 1790 a young girl, Mary Jay, later called Kitty Jay, left the Poor House to work as a servant girl at a local landowner’s farm. Once there, she quickly caught the attention of the landowner’s son who promised to marry her. But, when she fell pregnant he abandoned her and she was thrown out of the farm. With no where to go, no chance of employment anywhere else, and labelled as a ‘slut’, in despair Kitty Jay tragically took her own life. She was found hanging in one of the barns on the farm. The local church refused to have her buried on consecrated ground. The custom at the time was to bury suicides at crossroads, sometimes with a stake driven through their hearts to ensure that the restless soul of the departed could not return to haunt living, god-fearing mortals. This was the fate of poor Kitty Jay. She was interred at an intersection of a road and track high up in moors, just north-west of Hound Tor. The grave soon became known as ‘Jay’s Grave’ and it was not long before strange events were reported there. On some moonlit nights, a dark figure was seen kneeling beside the grave, head bowed, face in hands. But the phenomenon most associated with Kitty’s final resting place is the strange and daily appearance of fresh flowers placed on her grave. To this day, and no matter what time of the year it may be, every morning a new posy of flowers appears. No-one has ever been seen leaving them. Over the years many have tried to glimpse who may be responsible, even camping out all night to witness the event. Yet again and again, the mystery remains as the fresh flowers appear.

Being up on the moors myself, you can easily understand where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got his inspiration for his most famous work and possibly the best crime fiction mystery of all time, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Climbing to the top of a tor to survey the wild windswept moors below, is just a magical sight. Watching the weather play its own role in maintaining the character and mystery of the place. One moment bright sunshine, the next thick mists and fogs to ensnare the weary traveller. Every place, every rock, has a story to tell or a story to inspire. Certainly, years before, I found my own novel growing there, amongst the tussock grasses, gorse and bracken.

Very few places can fire the imagination that way, but Dartmoor IS such a place. Clapper bridges, ancient wizened oak forests, leafy glades, rushing rivers, dark foreboding dells and weather-beaten tors. If you truly want to step back in time and be transported to a magical land of fantasy and history…you MUST visit!

So, after my second exhausting hike, having negotiated the very uneven stepping-stones that cross the River Dart, I sat stretched out in the gusts that so often howl over the moors and watched Dartmoor’s wild ponies. Sheer bliss! 😀

New Zealand Odyssey Part IX – Pancakes, White Mountain and The Wonders of the South…

Feeling myself dissolving into the sands of Maraharu, the endless blue horizon before me and the exotic delights of the Abel Tasman rainforest, I felt once more the pull of the road.

Dragging myself away, my heart full of a strange tranquility I had never known, I rejoined my odyssey…afterall, who knew what wonders might lie around the next corner?

I took the winding hill roads and said goodbye to the sun-kissed vineyards of the Nelson and Marlborough regions. Passing through the thick coastal rainforests I joined the main highway and turned south towards the wildness of the South Island’s craggy coastlines and mountain ranges. That is New Zealand’s beauty and its magic…the drama of its ever-changing landscapes. Nowhere on earth, do you have a country only the size of Britain and yet with such varied geology. White sandy beaches and deserted islands, tropical jungles, active volcanoes, mountains, grasslands, fiordlands, moorland, temperate rainforests, huge freshwater lakes, giant sandhills…New Zealand has it all!

Leaving my rental car in Murchison, a small isolated town surrounded by towering hills in the heart of the Nelson Lakes National Park, I took a cheap bus and followed the highway west towards the coast, feeling the temperature visibly cool. With so few roads, dictated by the mountainous landscape, so many places I passed through felt like frontier towns, places completely out of time.

I hit the coast just south of Westport. Here the State Highway hugged the shoreline like a ribboning snake, giving the most amazing views out to sea. Again, with nothing but the wild ocean for thousands of miles, you were instantly reminded of just how remote New Zealand is and just how beautiful.

With the impenetrable forests of the Paparoa National Park on my left and long stretches of wind-blown beaches on my right, the landscape grew evermore wild and evermore spectacular. Not being much of a coach passenger, I stopped off at the suitably named Pancake Rocks and Blow Holes of Punakaiki. A weird and wonderful natural geological formation of…well…pancake stacked rocks, perched right on the water’s edge!

After whiling away most of the day, scrabbling over the rocks and trying not to fall into one of the many gaping holes that opened up before you, I caught another bus and continued south, my eyes inextricably drawn to the far off snowy peaks of the Southern Alps.

Trundling into Greymouth, the largest town I’d seen since leaving Nelson, I managed to find a lovely holiday cabin right on the beach, my base for the next few nights. Named after the mighty Grey River-Mawheranui, whose mouth Greymouth literally straddles, it was a strange sort of town. A mismatch somehow, of grey urban sprawl and border town with a dour kind of feel.

Nonetheless, my little beach hut was just the thing, going to sleep and waking with nothing but the sound of the waves! Utter bliss! Half the time I felt as if I had stumbled into Bronte’s Wuthering Heights or an Ingmar Bergman film, so hauntingly barren was the place!

Doing the touristy thing, I headed for the Kumara Junction and boarded a train on one of the world’s most spectacular train rides, the famous Arthur’s Pass. Linking Greymouth and the west coast of New Zealand to Christchurch in the east, it bestrides the country and takes in the most breathtaking scenery imaginable. What a trip! Following the valley floors, with mountainous peaks rising either side, the train climbed and took us up to the alpine heights of Arthur’s Pass, snaking its way through the lofty terrain, before plunging down to the flat Canterbury Plains surrounding Christchurch.

I spent a few hours wandering the very civilised and surprisingly English feeling city of Christchurch, before boarding the train for the spectacular return journey. One incredible journey I’ll never forget…but the best was to come.

Spending a few lazy days beach combing and exploring the area I set off again and headed for Hokitika, famous for its greenstone or jade, determined to buy some locally carved jewelery. But always, the looming mountains of the Southern Alps were calling to me in a way I just couldn’t explain.

And so, hauling my backpack and picking up another rental car, I succumbed to the pull of the mountains and headed towards the Franz Josef glacier. Taking the state highway once more, as it left the coast and wound its way inland over rushing rivers, valley basins and beside beautiful lakes, I felt myself falling in love once more with the sheer unspoilt majesty of the landscape.

Reaching West Coast, the nearest settlement to the glacier, I found a cheap place to stay and started my next adventure…

It was a bright February morning. The sky was the kind of electric blue you never really believe is real somehow. A perfect day. Cold but full of sunshine and possibilities.

I took my car, a run-down automatic transmission thing, down to this little air field…and then I saw it. The tiniest aeroplane I had ever seen! My banged up jalopy looked bigger!

Without much regard, I climbed into the small seat beside the pilot and off we went! Soaring  above the lower slopes of the Southern Alps. Trying desperately not to vomit all over the cock-pit, I stared out of the window, nodding at the pilot’s remarks while I kept my mouth firmly shut! (doesn’t happen often)

Rivers snaked beneath us. As we flew over the snow-capped mountains, Mount Cook loomed in the distance – New Zealand’s tallest mountain and the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere. Utterly stunning in its grandeur. Nausea disappeared. I looked on in astonishment as we circled Mount Cook’s flanks. I’d never seen anything so beautiful. All I could think of was…”I’ve found it! I’ve found my White Mountain!”

We left Mount Cook, Aoraki in Maori, and landed on a pristine snow field just above the Franz Josef glacier. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

This was nature at its simplest and purest. Nothing but white and the startling blue above. The snow here had a covering of ice crystals which crunched beneath my feet as I left the plane and went walking. I followed the contours of the peaks around me and looked down to the glacier below with its gaping crevasses.

This was a once in a lifetime moment and the real stuff of magic.

With Mr. Agyk whispering in my head, the story of White Mountain began to unfold…

Injustice for all? Why does dead wood float?

Listening to a friend recently, as we both collectively joined others in having a damn good moan, the phrase ‘dead wood floats’ was mentioned. It occurred to me, as we all groaned and agreed, that we have in this country such a skewed system of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and that the reason the gap between these polar opposites keeps growing, is that we applaud and even reward failure!

Look at the bankers and banking system. Take the former head honcho of Barclay’s, a man who looked the part, talked the talk, great ‘front of house’, could charm and smarm his way into any boardroom, a man of power and charisma who abused that power dreadfully, took everyone for a ride…looks like he’s going to be given an enormous golden handshake for failing in his job, in addition to his multi-million pound salary!

Words fail.

In such an unfair world, where dead wood floats to the top, while the rest of us work our fingers to the bone for a crumb at the master’s table, all we can do is continue to hope and dream and make our own worlds as beautiful as possible!

😀

New Zealand Odyssey Part VIII – Capital Blues and the Gateway to the South.

With a heavy heart, I dragged myself away from magical Lake Taupo and the wonders of the Tongariro National Park.

Leaving my rental car and the majesty of New Zealand’s active volcanoes behind, I grabbed a cheap bus ride and headed south towards the country’s capital, Wellington, the southernmost capital in the world!

Known as ‘Windy Wellington’, it certainly lived up to its name! Situated in the latitudes of the ‘Roaring Forties’ and perched on a range of steep-sided hills that run down to the harbour and the sea beyond, Wellington is also particularly exposed to the coastal gusts that blow through the Cook Strait. The city also lies on an active geological fault line and has a high degree of seismic activity as a result, with several small earthquakes occurring every year, and was the sight of New Zealand’s most powerful recently recorded earthquake, in 1855, reaching a massive 8.2 magnitude.

Arriving, somewhat weighed down by my now massively heavy backpack, I got a room in a small B&B then set out to explore the wonders of Wellington.

I wandered amongst the harbour and quayside, a picture of city tranquility and civic pride. None of the dirt, litter and graffiti so prevalent in our own capital. Public sculptures and fountains jostled amongst neatly clipped lawns and perfectly manicured flowerbeds. Only the unpredictability of the sea reminded you of the wildness beyond the city fringes.

I took the cable car and drank in the breathtaking views over the city as I passed Kelburn cricket grounds and headed up the hillside to the botanical gardens above and the Carter Observatory and Planetarium. Seeing the stars of the Southern Cross for the first time and a different night sky to one you’ve always known, is strange and thrilling.

The next few days whirled by in haze of sightseeing, but there was always something dogging my tracks, like a whisper on the wind, a feeling of melancholia that I couldn’t shake…

Rarely in life do we realise that we are having the time of our lives while we are actually having them! Yet I was all too aware, as I reached the mid-point of my four-month odyssey, that I had never felt happier, freer and more contented, and that the experiences and memories I was making, would stay with me for a life-time and shape my life in ways I could never have predicted.

Booking my ferry ticket, I posted home some of the encumbering weight of my backpack, before bordering the Interislander Cook Strait Ferry and saying farewell to New Zealand’s North Island!

93km and 3 hours later, for what has been deservedly described as ‘one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world’, I saw the stunning inlets and channels of the South Island’s Marlborough Sounds. A 4000km2 maze of coastal ‘sea-drowned valleys’, of heavily wooded hills and sparsely populated quiet bays at the far north of the South Island, which evoke the best of ancient Scandinavian legends. A heady mixture of mystery, Maori mythology, spectacular landscapes and sweet solitude. Nature at her best!

I arrived at the sheltered harbour of Picton, gateway to the South Island. Grabbing another cheap bus, I headed west through the glorious rolling hills and vineyards of Marlborough’s famous wine region to the bohemian city of Nelson, the geographical centre of New Zealand. A small but wonderfully artsy feeling place, full of galleries, indie record shops and festivals, Nelson became my base for the next week.

Bathed in the highest amount of sunshine per year, making it the ‘Sunshine Capital’ of New Zealand, you can understand why it’s cerulean skies and dry heat are so perfect for making fine wines. And so, despite sadly not being a lover of wines myself (my immature palate makes them taste as disgustingly sour, as when I tried sipping them at age 13), I found myself getting lost down empty country tracks, picking grapes and macadamia nuts from the roadside! Bliss.

After happy days soaking up the sunshine and culture of friendly Nelson, I took my rental car and headed west, as I found myself aching once more for wild places. Branching off from the State Highway, I took the picturesque coastal road past Motueka and onto the pretty little town of Kaiteriteri with its sandy beaches and cafes…But still the wild beckoned me.

Following a twisting road, which can only be described as a single gravel track hardly wide enough for a car, with sheer drops inches from my wheels, I gingerly skirted the forested hills and cliffs towards my destination, Marahau, hoping against hope not to met a car coming in the opposite direction!

Crossing the Otuwhero Inlet, I was immediately amazed by the startling azure of the Tasman Bay and the Pacific beyond and the almost ethereal white of the beaches. Sheer paradise. Marahau, a tiny inaccessible village, gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park and outpost for laid back beach bums, surfers, hikers, adventurers and those wishing to get lost, had the most magical feel to it. Artisan and bohemian in the extreme, with only one way in or out, its solitary grocery shop, cafe, post box and the few dotted roads, houses, caravans, water taxis and kayaks, invited you to stay a while…and so I did.

THIS was a place to live and breathe and write! Hemingway, Greene, Kerouac…if they knew this place existed, they would have packed their cigars, white shirts and shades and headed here on the first plane. Du Maurier too…but maybe without the cigars!

I splashed out, booking myself into the rather posh, Ocean View Chalets, self-contained wooden chalets perched on stilts and overlooking the sea. The view from my balcony was nothing short of spectacular. This was the stuff of dreams. If you couldn’t be inspired here, then you couldn’t be inspired anywhere.

Wishing every minute would stretch itself and every hour would become a day, I spent the next three glorious weeks in a heightened state of happy delirium. No drugs needed, just utterly intoxicated on life.

Taking the Abel Tasman walkway and coastal track deep into the rainforest, I was astonished to see a passing group of little wild blue penguins casually crossing the path in front of me, as a cacophony of exotic birds cooed in the canopy above.

Abandoning shoes, I spent most of my days walking barefoot, hanging out on the beach as if it were a religion, beach combing, sketching and horse riding along the surf…yes, as clichéd as it is, there is nothing like it! Writing for hours and hours as the sun hovered overhead, a guiding light for my imagination. Watching the sunset blaze into the ocean, or the drifting embers of a bonfire on the beach, sharing gentle conversation with strangers, all as blissfully happy as me.

Days were meant to be like this…